Running on Empty

Running on empty. It seems that in today’s world, it is more common than any of us would like to admit. Stress, Covid concerns, unknowns, financial uncertainty, fears, business, and on and on, press in to our lives every day. To the degree that we may even reach overwhelm, and hopeless and despair.

What do we do?

The common reaction is to develop more and stronger coping mechanisms that include all sorts of pressure relief valves, like alcohol, drugs, pornography, affairs, anger, rage, depression and more.

These are all obviously unhealthy avenues to handle the growing concerns of our lives. But why are they so often chosen over healthy, non-destructive methods that are available?

One reason is Pride. We think we can do it, or, we think we SHOULD be able to handle it. We don’t want to appear weak, incapable, needy or whatever. This is the number one barrier to seeking help. Pride. And pride comes before destruction.

There are contributing factors to this gravitation.

A lack of accountability. Poor planning. Laziness. Fear. Dishonesty, and more are contributing factors, but thinking I can or should be able to do it, is the biggest nail in the coffin.

The following are six steps to take to help avoid the place of isolation when you feel like you’re running on empty.

1. Hit the Reset Button

The first step is to check in on how you came to be empty. Use HALT to ask yourself:

  • Am I hungry?
  • Am I anxious?
  • Am I lonely?
  • Am I tired?

Deficiencies of sleep, fueling your body with nutritious foods, social connection, or stress can all affect your ability to function optimally. Solving these problems first is key. Putting quality food into your system and allowing ample rest time are simple. Loneliness can happen even when you are surrounded by people. Being lonely doesn’t come from being alone; it comes from not feeling a sense of belonging or being heard by those around you. If you aren’t surrounding yourself with people who inspire you, challenge you, and help you to stay motivated, it may be time to make some changes.

2. Check in on Your Sense of Purpose

People who identify a source of meaning and purpose in their lives report greater life satisfaction. They also have higher levels of both physical and mental health, higher levels of resilience, and a greater sense of control. If you are feeling a lack of any of these, you may need to check in and see if you’re still aligned with your purpose.

3. Make Sure Your Burnout Isn’t Coming from Comparison

Each minute on Facebook in 2015, 510 comments were posted, 293,000 statuses were updated, and 136,000 photos were uploaded. (It’s safe to assume that those numbers have only grown since then.)

There can be an upside and a downside to comparisons. Seeing the good in other people’s lives can be a motivator; however, people are also able to construct identities that show their highlight reel without giving you an inside peek at the process;

You don’t see the mistakes along the way, the false starts, the failures, and the tough times are all as important as the end product that is usually what is posted on social media. If you’re comparing your rough first draft to somebody else’s highlight reel you’re always going to come up feeling badly. When you catch yourself comparing yourself to anybody but yourself, STOP.

4. Assess Your Levels of Self-Compassion

It has been said that compassion is incomplete if it doesn’t extend to self. You are often hardest and most critical of yourself. Notice how you speak to yourself. Do you use the carrot or the stick method? Kristen Neff, Ph.D., is a self-compassion researcher who suggests asking yourself, “Would you speak to a friend or a colleague the way you are speaking to yourself?” If not, start to be kind to yourself. Book a massage. Take a walk. Celebrate your successes. These reminders will help keep burnout at bay.

5. Use a Quick Fix to Turn Around the Negative Downward Spiral

Think of well-being as either spiraling up or spiraling down. There are some quick fixes that can help you begin the process of changing a bad mood to good or burnout to ease. The smell center and the auditory center are both right next to the pleasure center. This means you can use a good or a favorite song to help get back in the game when you would rather stay on the bench.

Feeling burned out is your body, heart and mind telling you something. When your body is in balance it tells you to rest when it needs rest and it pushes forward when it has purpose and energy. Listen to your body and your heart. Your jobs, your friends, your family, and your goals can get in the way of accurately seeing your levels of energy, engagement, and resilience.

When you feel depleted, instead of viewing it as a weakness, use it as an opportunity to reassess and then move forward in a way that supports your continued ability to flourish; and don’t do it alone.

Finally, find your faith center. God is the author of peace. Without peace we lean towards fretting, chaotic thinking, “tail wagging the dog” activity, worry, fear and haste, which makes us do things we would normally not do. Find your center in God, faith will ground you and give you the strength, courage and hope to keep going forward in a healthier fashion.


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